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“Leave nothing but footprints”

The familiar saying when visiting national parks and world heritage listed areas of natural beauty has always been “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints”, but does this saying still hold up today with the explosion in popularity of landscape photography? Can our fragile natural environments handle the footprints of thousands and thousands of photographers?

Cradle Mountain Tasmania

Cradle Mountain Tasmania

I have been visiting places like Cradle Mountain for many years, and am noticing quite dramatically the appearance of muddy new paths where people have gone foraging off track to look for new angles on a familiar view. Closer to Hobart, a waterfall which is known (somewhat ironically now) as “Secret Falls” is found at the end of a well worn muddy track, with major changes to the landscape at the base of the falls due to its popularity with photographers. There is a darling little waterfall in the Tarkine which has got a group of photographers debating whether or not the location should be shared or not, due to concerns it too will become an over-visited muddy mess (I most definitely will not be sharing its location).

Secret Falls in Tasmania

Secret Falls, in Tasmania

So where do you draw the line? The most inspirational landscape photographs have been taken by those who dare to tread on land far from the madding crowds – so barring people from exploring is not the aim here. Does a location like Dove Lake need to be sacrificed so that more remote locations are spared? Who gets to decide? Does sharing your images online now contribute to the degradation of nature, where once upon a time, sharing photos of nature was done with the aim of preserving a landscape? There has always been major concern at heavy industry such as logging and mining ruining landscapes but this death by a thousand cuts is something that needs a real discussion too.

Waterfall Tarkine

A delightful little waterfall in Tasmania’s Tarkine. A recent discussion about the impact of photographers on delicate environments such as this got me thinking about photography, tourism and conservation in the social media age.

Do we need more boardwalks and hand-rails in National Parks? More rangers to enforce the stay on track message? I don’t know the answer, but I would hate to think that the rise of digital technology and social media risk reducing landscape photography to some sort of trophy hunt. I want people who join my workshops to do so out of a need to connect to the natural landscape. I have had many experiences during workshops where in a quiet moment I have noticed guests just sitting back and drinking in the scenery, the fresh air and the experience. As well as talking about the mechanics of the camera and the art of composition, my workshops are all about enjoying this sort of connection to nature that can too easily be forgotten in our 24 hour work-life cycle connected to technology.

If you have any thoughts on this topic please feel free to share them!

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About Luke

Luke O'Brien runs a stall at Hobart's popular Salamanca Market every Saturday where his prints and cards are available for purchase. Follow Luke's photographic adventures on Twitter at @lukeobrienphoto, at his Facebook page or by subscribing to his email newsletter.